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Therapeutic Riding: How Horses Help and Inspire People

Updated on October 2, 2011

Why Therapeutic Riding?

"A canter is a cure for every evil." Benjamin Disraeli

Have you ever witnessed horses running free? Or felt the freedom of riding one of these magnificent creatures at a canter? Their spirits soar with each step they take, and you get to go along for the flight. They lighten our spirit with their strength and require us to live in the moment, right alongside them.

"In riding a horse we borrow freedom." Helen Thomson

Humans have been fascinated by horses for thousands of years. They are revered in mythology and literature from every corner of the world, taking on a magical quality. They are known for their beauty, loyalty, courage and speed. Throughout history the horse has captivated us with her perfect fusion of gentleness and power.

"There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man." Winston Churchill

In therapeutic riding, horses help physically and mentally challenged people achieve things that may seem impossible. They help autistic children make connections and improve communication skills. They lend a person confined to a wheelchair their legs to run through woods. They build confidence in the unsure child and can ease the pain of depression caused by chronic pain. The interaction is beneficial on an emotional, physical and neurological level.

Just being near horses can make you feel better.
Just being near horses can make you feel better.

An Overview of Therapeutic Riding and Hippotherapy

Therapeutic Riding and Hippotherapy

Therapeutic riding is an individualized program of restorative and enjoyable activities where riders learn horsemanship skills. These skills translate into improved balance, strength and flexibility for the rider. Studies have shown that riding can cultivate self-confidence and communication skills for children and adults with emotional and psychological disabilities. It is also used to provide those with life-threatening illnesses a reprieve from the pain and depression associated with medical treatment. The riders develop a benficial relationship with their horse through grooming, caring for and getting to know the horse.

"There is no secret so close as that between a rider and his horse." Robert Smith Surtees

Therapeutic Riding Instructors complete a training program accredited by the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association (NARHA).

The American Hippotherapy Association, Inc., defines hippotherapy as "physical, occupational and speech therapy treatment strategy that utilizes equine movement." The name hippotherapy comes from the Greek root hippo, meaning horse. Hippotherapy is used to improve both gross and fine motor skills as well as cognitive abilities. Sessions are provided by licensed physical, occupational and speech therapists.

"No hour of life is wasted that is spent in a saddle." Winston Churchill

How A Soldier Wounded in Iraq is Using Therapeutic Riding

I saw a child who couldn't walk,
 Sit on a horse, laugh and talk.
 Then ride through a field of daisies
 and yet, he couldn't walk unaided.
 I saw a child, no legs below,
 sit on a horse and make it go
 through woods of green
 and places he had never been
 to sit and stare, except from a chair.
 I saw a child who couldn't crawl
 mount a horse and sit up tall.
 Put it through degrees of paces
 and laugh at the wonder in our faces.
 I saw a child born into strife,
 Take up and hold the reins of life
 and that same child, I heard him say
 Thank God for showing me the way...
by John Anthony Davies 

How to Find a Therapeutic Riding Center in your Area

North American Riding for the Handicapped

This is the best place to start. The NARHA maintains a listing of all Accredited Centers in North America, and explains the importance of working with instructors that a certified.

You can also search internationally at Federation of Riding for the Disabled international.

How You Can Get Involved in Therapeutic Riding

Are you inspired to experience the magic of the horse / human connection firsthand? Many therapeutic riding centers depend on a team of volunteers to keep their programs running. If there is a center in your area that offers this service, you may be able to spend time with horses and see how they can help a wide array of people.

Training is usually provided by the facility. Volunteer positions may include:

  • Walker - walk alongside the horse to ensure the safety of the person riding, or leading the the horse on a designated path
  • Groom- Cleaning, brushing and preparing the horse before a session and caring for the horse after, sometimes with the help of the rider

To find a center in your area, search for volunteer positions at Network for Good.

The work may be hard and you will definitely get your hands dirty (your boots too) but the rewards will be amazing!

"The wind of heaven is that which blows between a horses ears." Arabian Proverb

For more of my writing about horses and equestrian sports, check out Equestrian Riding Clothing.


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    • profile image

      Linda stewart 6 years ago

      Hi i have a KWPN warmblood, 10years 5months and is a gelding that Must sell due to finances, he is called Benjy has a lovely nature in and out of the stable, and is a such a sweet boy. he is good to catch and comes when called, easy to handle, loads, never bites, kicks etc. we have owned benjy for nearly 1 year now but he is not for a complete novice ride as can be a little sharp.

      very good with traffic can be hacked alone or in company. he has been of work for a while but is coming back in really well, i would love to see him in a therapeutic place for him, as he would be fantastic due to his loving and kind nature. please ring me linda on 07837976003 if you are inrested, we are in kent in england, thanks

    • profile image

      Maynard Brassey 6 years ago

      You all are providing a very good service. I do hope that I can join you all in this field and provide this type of service to our handicapped/disabled in my country. This restorative an enjoyable opportunity, along with medical treatment will provide great improvement to these persons lives.

    • profile image

      cindy lopez 6 years ago

      my sister has a horse named rose. it is the best thing in her life. please do not take the hores away from her andy may

    • profile image

      prillyg 7 years ago

      Donna, I work with an autistic girl. It is sooo hard for her to touch the horse. She leads my horse around and I found setting up a lane with rope and putting ground poles down has helped her confidence. The amazing thing is I also believe I have an autistic horse and he too has gotten calmer using the lane. He has a hard time with horses touching him and people. Even if they don't ride, the therapy is there. The little girl wants to wear her helmet and I have to put mine on to. She rode last year, but this year just hasn't made it back on. She's done a quite a bit of growing mentally and she's at a new level. More personality is coming out. It's wonderful to see the change. She is working with a horse that was rescued. He was overfaced, but the changes he has gone through is amazing. He is super with her. He doesn't like ground poles, but at liberty he showed her how he can. He was so fluid and there was lots of laughter.


    • amy jane profile image

      amy jane 7 years ago from Connecticut

      Hi Anne! I completely agree too. An hour of riding, especially out in the woods clears your mind and spirit like nothing else can! Horses are amazing creatures.:)

    • Anne Coyle profile image

      Anne Coyle 7 years ago from Bronxville, NY

      It is truly amazing how much love, healing and inspiration horses bring to our lives. Even if you cannot find a center near your home, it is important to choose stables with the latest equestrian equipment to ensure the safety of the riders. I agree with many of the above posters -- there is nothing that compares to the clarity you feel after an hour or so riding.

    • amy jane profile image

      amy jane 8 years ago from Connecticut

      Thank you caoshub.I agree, riding helps in so many different ways. To top it off, being around horses lightens your spirit! :)

    • caoshub profile image

      caoshub 8 years ago from Portugal

      Hi, great hub!

      I have seen amazing changes in horse therapy. I bread Lusitano and Haflinger horses, and these are great interacting with disable people, so carefull and warming. And riding helps focusing, equilibrium, confidence... and the horse cadence brings rithm to the rider. I believe that is one of the great secrets of horse therapy.

      Congrats on your hub.

    • amy jane profile image

      amy jane 8 years ago from Connecticut

      Thanks myawn! They really are wonderful creatures to be around! The possibilities of using them in therapy are still just at the beginning of being understood and utilized.

    • myawn profile image

      myawn 8 years ago from Florida

      very nice hub animals are great therapy. When I was in the hospital they brought in dogs to pet and to cheer me up.

    • amy jane profile image

      amy jane 8 years ago from Connecticut

      Thanks Cassidella! They are wonderful animals. You should really giving riding a try - even just trotting can be a wonderful feeling. I've never galloped, but cantering feels like flying just a little, and isn't too hard. :)

      Good Luck!

    • Cassidella profile image

      Cassidella 8 years ago

      Great hub Amy! Horses are magnificent creatures. It is good to know how they are being used in therapy. Only ever did walking trail. Would love to have the skill and nerve to do an outright galloping ride one day! I imagine that to be pretty freeing! Thanks for sharing.

    • amy jane profile image

      amy jane 8 years ago from Connecticut

      Hi Glen,

      Thank you so much for the additional information. Perhaps I should write an entire article about the Gypsy Angel Horse Foundation! I will definitely look into it more - sounds like a wonderful organization.

      Thanks again,


    • Grin Ranch profile image

      Grin Ranch 8 years ago


      I’m so glad that I found your Hub page. You’ve done a very nice job of gathering information about therapeutic riding. Thank You!

      I thought you would appreciate knowing about the efforts of The American Gypsy Angel Horse Foundation (if you aren’t already aware of this group). AGAHF is a wonderful organization that is a part of The American Gypsy Horse Breed Association. AGHBA relies on its membership for support of the foundation’s efforts to award "Gypsy Angel" horses to therapeutic centers. We have three “Angels” to date that are being supported by members of AGHBA and our first Angel, Sir Gawaine, was officially welcomed to the Atlantic Riding Center for the Handicapped, in Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey this year, on June 27, 2009 (

      We are always in need of participation to keep going and so our Gypsy Angel program can continue. Any help you can offer to spread the word would be greatly appreciated. With the support of Gypsy Horse members and the equine community we will continue to grow and provide these magical horses to causes that can so wonderfully utilize their unique attributes and talents.

      Thanks again for your efforts!

      - Glen A. Clark

    • amy jane profile image

      amy jane 9 years ago from Connecticut

      Hi Emma, I'm so glad this helped you to understand therapeutic riding! It really is a beautiful way to help people.

      Hi Annette, I just re-read the quotes about horses too. :) They are so true! Riding gives you a sense of freedom like nothing else, and all your cares and worries melt away. So glad you enjoyed this.

    • profile image

      Annette 9 years ago

      I really enjoyed your online website! I can't wait to start helping out in this and I love thoses poems or saying you have in this website! They are so special, it makes me want to cry! Thanks a bunch! I will treasure horses forever!!!!!!

    • profile image

      Emma 9 years ago

      I just love your articles! It maes me super happy to see what horses can do! I am doing a speech at school about being optimistic and this has really helped my understand! Thanks a lot!!!!!!!

    • amy jane profile image

      amy jane 9 years ago from Connecticut

      Thanks Real Tomato!

    • The Real Tomato profile image

      The Real Tomato 9 years ago

      Hey dana- I am an EGALA fan too. Many corporations are utilizing this type of therapy to improve company interpersonal communications. Horses can be a great buffer to critical issues in therapy.

      Another great Hub amy jane

    • amy jane profile image

      amy jane 9 years ago from Connecticut

      Thanks for the additional info, Dana! I agree that it is difficult for non-hosey people to understand. I wish everyone could experience it first hand. They are amazing animals - and friends!

    • dana825 profile image

      dana825 9 years ago from Chicago

      NAHRA (North American Handicapped Riding Association) and EAGALA (Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association) are both great equine therapeutic programs. EAGALA uses EAP (equine assisted psychotherapy) to help patients with psychiatric issues. I work at a therapeutic stable and the change a horse can have on a person is insane. The change my horse had on me is almost indescribable, but I owe my life to him. It's really hard to explain that connection between horses and people to non-horsey-people but for better or worse, your horse will always be at your side... and they know when you're lying or faking a smile. They are truly remarkable creatures.

    • amy jane profile image

      amy jane 10 years ago from Connecticut

      Thank you ridendurnace! I too am amazing by the many talents of horses. :)

    • ridendurance profile image

      ridendurance 10 years ago

      Hello Amy,

      Thanks for an inspiring post. It is truly amazing the impact therapeutic riding can have.

    • amy jane profile image

      amy jane 10 years ago from Connecticut

      Thank you so much, Joni! I will certainly go check it out!

    • Joni Solis profile image

      Joni Solis 10 years ago from Kentwood, Louisiana

      Dear Amy, I just Nickered your hug at the new site

      NickerIt.comEquestrian News, Photos, Videos, and Websites.Equestrian Social is the first equestrian social bookmarking site.

      You might want to go sign up at and Nicker your post to helpkeep it near the top of the list for a while so more people can find it easy. Also consider adding more of your horse articles there.

      I do not own Nicker It - I just use it to find horse articles and to post horse pages I like so others can find them too.

    • amy jane profile image

      amy jane 10 years ago from Connecticut

      Hi Donna, I agree with what Anne said above. I think riding would definitely benefit your children, and I would think that there are many experienced teachers who would take the time to investigate the best methods for teaching children with autism. Like you said, it is the link between the child and the horse that matters most, and that is the greatest benefit for a child with autism. I wish you the best of luck and hope you find a suitable situation soon! :)

    • annemaeve profile image

      annemaeve 10 years ago from Philly Burbs

      Hi Amy, thank you so much for sharing this beautiful article. I'm a program director at a therapeutic riding center, and I agree with everything that's been said on this hub! :)

      Donna, if I may comment on your question, I think that you could definitely bring horses into your children's lives, even if you don't have a center nearby. NARHA member and accredited centers should always be your first choice, because of the safety and education standards they have to adhere to, but any reputable stable may be able to help you. You know your children best, and how they'll react in new situations, and since you've seen therapeutic riding in practice, I'm sure you can keep everyone safe.

      If there isn't a center nearby, there just might be a need for one! The center I work for started with just one rider and one horse in someone's backyard, and 26 years later, we serve 85 clients a week. You never know what talents and interests might be hiding in your local horse community until you give it a few pokes!

    • donnaleemason profile image

      donnaleemason 10 years ago from North Dakota, USA

      Hi Amy, that was awesome.

      I used to be involved with riding for the disabled back home in NZ. Now I live in the states and I have 3 Autistic children. There is no program near us and I wondered if, even without formal teaching, whether or not riding would help anyway as it is the peace and the link between them and the horse that matters.

      what do you think? Donna

    • amy jane profile image

      amy jane 10 years ago from Connecticut

      Hi Joni,

      Thanks for reading and commenting. To answer your questions; No, I do not own my own horse (at the moment), but I hope that I will in the near future :) My daughter asks me every day, "When can we have a horse?" She is very passionate about horses, too. I do not do equine massage at this time, but am considering the possibility for the future, when my youngest starts school and I would have the time to pursue it.

    • amy jane profile image

      amy jane 10 years ago from Connecticut

      Marte, I agree - they are therapuetic for us all! You have an Arabian? Lucky woman! I hear they love their people as intensely as they love to gallop. You have much to be thankful for :)

    • amy jane profile image

      amy jane 10 years ago from Connecticut

      Hi Ann, i'm glad you enjoyed the article! Thanks for reading and commenting!

      Hi Kyle, thanks so much reading and sharing this with your friends :)

    • Joni Solis profile image

      Joni Solis 10 years ago from Kentwood, Louisiana

      >licensed massage therapist specializing in Neuromuscular Therapy and the management of chronic pain. I also developed and taught seminars on massage and alternative healing. Writing has always been my passion, rivaled only by my love of horses.

      Jane I just read about you in the hub email sent to me and I was wondering, do you practice massage on horses too? Do you own a horse?

    • Marte profile image

      Marte 10 years ago from North Idaho

      Riding is theraputic for all of us - as a freelance copywriter I sometimes get "stuck" - and spending an hour with my horse frees my mind, lets me get lost in the feeling of a great gallop, and brings me back refreshed and ready to get back to work.

      Right now the weather is cold and nasty and I'm not riding - but just watching that Arab grace as he trots toward me to get his dinner, and then taking a few minutes to scratch his neck and rub noses makes all the difference in my attitude.

      I give great thanks for the horses in my life - both past and present.

    • profile image

      Kyle Bruening 10 years ago

      Great insight in to Therapeutic Horse Back Riding. I several friends that will enjoy reading your hub page

      Kyle Bruening

    • nyfamily5 profile image

      nyfamily5 10 years ago

      I love your hub. I did some fundraising for Therapeutic Horse Back Riding Program and think it is a great thing!!


    • amy jane profile image

      amy jane 10 years ago from Connecticut

      Hi Ron,

      Thank you for the comment and for reading. These programs are so inspiring. I think it would be such a wonderful way to spend your days. I would love to work with horses myself one day. I hope that day comes soon - for you as well!

    • Rpetracek profile image

      Rpetracek 10 years ago from Southern California

      I love your hub, My wife and I have horses  and she is a horse trainer. We desire to one day have a program that will benefit people with our horses as well.


    • amy jane profile image

      amy jane 10 years ago from Connecticut

      Hi 9yards! Thanks so much -I am glad you enjoyed the hub. I love those quotes too. I have pages more of them! My daughter rides, and i am hoping she will continue in her teen years because it is such a positive thing for her and teenagers need that. It will also give us a hobby to share!

    • profile image

      9yards 10 years ago

      As a former equestrian, I absolutely LOVED the quotes in this hub! They are so true. I rode competitively as a pre-teen and teenager - tough years for girls. It gave me amazing freedom, confidence and self-esteem in those formative years, so it's easy to see how horses help people with disabilities. I've always said horses are the best therapy! :-) Thanks for a great hub!

    • amy jane profile image

      amy jane 10 years ago from Connecticut

      Thanks Patty! Horses are amazing animals - everyone can benefit from spending time with them :)

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 10 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      Great Hub! There are therapeutic riding programs in our county that work pretty well. Some autistic children have responded and many at-risk youth do very well with it.


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